Serious Trouble

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, college age students, those between the ages of 18-24, are showing the highest rates of gambling addictions. And not all young addicts manage to get help. The national helpline and treatment and awareness center, 1-800 Gambler, estimates that only 3 percent of kids with a gambling addiction call them for help.

Terry Elman, education co-ordinator for 1-800-Gambler, says the consequences for those who don't can be devastating.

"I was invited to go to a school the day before Christmas vacation," says Elman. "And I got there at 7 o'clock in the morning and they were wheeling a boy out in a body-bag. He had hung himself the night before because he had lost on a bet. And basically that's the bottom line for a compulsive gambler, even as a teen, and the suicide rate is high to begin with, and if you add compulsive gambling to it, people die. I know it's hard for people to believe, but people die from compulsive gambling."

Terry Elman knows what he's talking about first-hand. The memory of the terrible cost of his own addiction still chokes him. He's a recovering compulsive gambler who ruined his own life and the lives of his family.

"I lost everything that I had," recalls Terry. "I lost the house, three cars, the children's college funds, and eventually I couldn't borrow anymore and I became a criminal. Actually, I'm a seven-time convicted felon. And I've gone to prison."

Despite seeing his life torn apart by gambling, Terry Elman still remembers the exhilaration he would feel every time he placed a bet.

"I would feel so good and so excited that I could put nothing in front of it. I couldn't put my family in front of getting that high, I couldn't put my job in front of getting that high, I couldn't put my health in front of getting that high. All I wanted to do was get high and I couldn't stop. Compulsive gambling is a progressive disease, just like alcoholism, just like drug addiction."

Terry Elman is among the 5 to 6 percent of adults who gamble who become what's called "pathological gamblers". That means they exhibit severe addictive behavior. But that figure increases dramatically among young adults under 24.

"The numbers that we get say about 18 percent of the people who are under the age of 24 will probably develop pathological gambling," says Terry. "Some will grow out of it. Others will have caused themselves so much damage before then that there's no way to get out of it. So it becomes a problem and it's much greater among the adolescent population than among the general population."

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